Wake Island in the Wake of Super-Typhoon Ioke

While North American weather report have been tracking Hurricane Ernesto on the Atlantic side and Hurricane John on the Pacific coast, they have largely ignored John’s much stronger Central Pacific cousin Ioke, who graduated to Super Typhoon after passing the International Date Line and forced the total evacuation of Wake Island on the way toward Japan. As Monday’s Pacific edition of the Stars and Stripes reports:

At 6 p.m. Saturday, Ioke was 1,350 miles east-southeast of Tokyo, moving west-northwest at 17 mph, packing sustained winds of 127 mph and gusts of up to 155 at its center. If it remains on its forecast track, Ioke will pass 130 miles east of Yokosuka Naval Base at 2 a.m. Thursday with sustained winds of 92 mph and gusts up to 104 at its center.

Most of the 188 evacuees from Wake are contract workers from Thailand who are spending a company-sponsored vacation on Oahu. An aerial survey over the weekend revealed no oil spills, but the Coast Guard has a team on the way to assess whether it’s safe for workers to return.

The atoll serves primarily as a fuel depot for military aircraft, and it did the same for trans-Pacific civilian flights before passenger jets came to dominate long-distance travel. I was on one such flight on Pan American World Airways during the summer of 1955 as my family returned from Japan for our first furlough. It was their first trip abroad for my three younger brothers, who were born in Japan.

My parents had arrived in Japan on 23 August 1950 aboard the U.S.S. President Cleveland out of San Francisco with about a dozen missionary couples, a half-dozen single women missionaries, and a half-dozen toddlers still learning to walk on that gently rolling ship. This was the largest cohort of new Southern Baptist missionaries ever to arrive in Japan at one time. I was one of the toddlers.

Pan American was keen to attract new types of passengers, including whole families, and not just individual business travellers.

In 1950, shortly after starting an around-the-world service and developing the concept of “economy class” passenger service, Pan American Airways, Inc. was renamed Pan American World Airways, Inc…. To compete with ocean liners, the airline offered first-class seats on such flights, and the style of flight crews became more formal. Instead of being leather-jacketed, silk-scarved airmail pilots, the crews of the “Clippers” wore naval-style uniforms and adopted a set procession when boarding the aircraft.

We were among the earliest missionary families to fly, instead of sail, back across the Pacific, and the crew treated us like royalty. They invited the two oldest boys into the cockpit, gave us sets of the little wings they wore on their uniforms, and bedded us down on the floor behind the last row of seats with a stack of American comic books to read. I only vaguely remember our refueling stops at Wake and Midway, but I remember eating too much ice cream in a pineapple boat during our longer stopover at Honolulu airport.

We must have read a lot of comic books during our furlough year, because the next summer, as our family of now seven—with a new baby sister in her basinette—drove all the way across the U.S. in our new ’56 Chevy sedan (with no air-conditioning), my father had to remind us to take our noses out of our comics and look out at “real” cowboy and Indian country in Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. In California, we boarded the U.S.S. President Wilson (taking our car aboard) for the trip back across the ocean to Japan.

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